Standing alongside other city officials and business leaders Monday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney revealed a new strategic economic plan that includes ambitious goals for reducing poverty and cranking up new development through 2026.
The 57-page Strategic Plan for Equitable Economic Development, or SPEED, is based on input from a team of consultants, city leaders and a public survey that received more than 800 responses.
The mayor said the plan would act as a “roadmap to economic prosperity,” outlining five specific goals and strategies related to community engagement, real estate development, education and retaining and adding businesses.
“Good economic development is economic empowerment,” Stoney said in a news conference announcing the introduction of the plan. “We believe that ambitious goals and targeted strategies improve the quality of life for all of our people. But true economic empowerment requires economic justice.”
The goals of the plan are:
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- $3 billion in capital investments for economic development projects.
- 3,000 new jobs with annual salaries at or above $52,000.
- A 5 percentage point decrease to the city’s poverty rate.
- Public and private sector real estate development that generates $25 million in annual real estate tax revenue by June 30, 2026.
- The award of 2,500 “post-secondary credentials” to city residents.
The city administration developed the new strategic plan in consultation with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis; TIP Strategies; The M Companies; and Hugh Helen LLC.
Leonard Sledge, the city’s director of economic development, said officials started working on the plan several years ago in response to a request from the City Council in 2016.
Sledge said the city was poised to introduce the plan in 2020, but that the mayor’s administration chose to reassess it at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 and the wave of local protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis two months later.
He and Stoney said the pause allowed officials to reshape the strategic plan in response to the health crisis and the public outcry against inequality and racism.
While Sledge did not say what goals or objectives may have been added after those events, he said the plan includes data points that highlight racial-economic disparities.
As an example, he said the report notes that African-Americans in the Richmond area are more likely to be employed in the three lowest-earning job categories with median annual earnings below $31,000.
Other initiatives outlined in the plan include improving minority business development and making Richmond a destination for people working remotely.
“We’re being very purposeful. Richmond spoke very loudly over the past two years, and this plan is an absolute, immediate first step building upon the conversations and the action since those moments … to keep us moving forward,” Sledge said.
Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, one of the five council members who joined the mayor for Monday’s announcement, said she was proud and encouraged by the plan.
“This is the first council that I have seen step forward in an intentional way to make sure that economic inclusion is part of our agenda,” said Robertson, who has first elected to the council in 2003. “I’m impressed with the boldness of saying that equity and justice lead this plan.”
The other council members who attended Monday’s event were Michael Jones, Ann-Frances Lambert, Katherine Jordan and Andreas Addison.
Several local business leaders also attended the press conference. While none of them spoke, a few were quoted in a city news release endorsing the plan.
“The City’s new strategic plan for equitable economic development is a smart guide for how to grow our community,” said Jennifer Wakefield, President and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership. “The plan addresses inequities further exacerbated by the pandemic and provides solutions to bring prosperity to our residents in the city and for all who call our region home.”
Floyd E. Miller II, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Business League, said the association is encouraged by the “aggressive measures” outlined in the plan.
“We, too, believe that a multi-pronged approach is a critical component in supporting minority businesses. MBL agrees with the city that launching creative new business models can help create greater opportunities for business ownership and wealth creation,” Miller said, according to the news release.
“We stand ready to collaborate with the city as it strives to close the gaps in economic disparities, achieve greater equity, and accelerate growth to create more opportunities for Richmonders.”
Jones, who the mayor invited to speak in Monday’s news conference, said he hopes the plan could help reduce the city’s violent crime rate after homicides reached their highest level since 2004 last year.
“Cranes in the air will reduce guns on the street,” Jones said. “You want to stop some of the violence in the area? Put young folks to work. Give them hope. Give them justice. That’s not a lot to ask for.”
The plan comes more than two years after the City Council rejected a $1.5 billion economic redevelopment plan for downtown known as Navy Hill.
City voters then narrowly shot down plans for a nearly $600 million casino in South Richmond last year, though the city is currently planning to hold another referendum on the project this November.
Jones mentioned the casino and tentative plans for redeveloping the area around The Diamond baseball stadium, saying he does not want the council to thwart construction plans that he said could help “revolutionize” the city and make it a more desirable place to live.
“I was elected to support [the mayor.] I wasn’t elected to fight the person who was elected to run our city,” he said. “I believe it is up to the council to step up, and not try to oversee professionals. … Our job is not to oversee [them].”
While the mayor and five of the council’s nine members attended Monday’s press conference announcing the strategic plan, it remains subject to final approval by City Council.